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  • Writer's pictureTantra Bensko

Gothic Literature Tropes

What constitute as Gothic novel extends far beyond the tropes. But when writing my Gothic novels like Encore: A Hypnotic Abduction and Floating on Secrets, in addition to studying all the other elements of the conventions in depth, I compiled this simple list of all the tropes that make up traditional Gothics. Enjoy! And if you want to suggest any more, feel free to contact me (Tantra Bensko).

Crows or ravens, bats, howling wolves, often portents

Clanking chains

Secret passages, tunnels

Crumbling, decaying ruins of church or state, orphanages

Meeting of fantastic past and realistic present

Endangered child to protect, orphans

Sick and twisted relative, mad, deformed, hidden away, idiotic, or controlling

Hidden love-child

Things are not what they seem

Juxtaposition of modern and ancient

Passionate attraction to a dangerous man

Unclear weather, fog, mist, storms, lightning, thunder, wind, trees scratching walls

Paranormal figures, hauntings, and powers, though they may end up being illusory


Ancestral curses, cursed objects stolen from colonies


Evil Catholics

Woman struggling against accepting stereotypical gender roles

Restrictive religious requirements causing twisted psyches

Missing person

Mysterious servants working with masters or helping the good ones

Man with secrets scheming against virginal woman

Damsel in distress

Well house

Isolation, islands, moors, lighthouses


Attics, basements, vaults, crypts, trap doors, trick panels, garden


Ghosts, though they may eventually be explained with rational science

Woman going to mansion to be governess

Occult rituals, Satanic sacrifice, black magic

Limitations of rationality to explain world we live in

Fascination with history

Gothic (Medieval) architecture, spires, turrets

Visions, dreams, and scrying

Questions of immortality

Heavy symbolism

Old dusty books

Portraits that change, creepy masks

Diaries, grimoires, maps, wills

Dopplegangers, twins, mirrored objects, parallels

Long roads, paths

Mysterious footsteps, laughter, faces in the window

Unexplained lights

Poisons, cursed objects

Somnambulism and hypnosis


Unusual keys

Corpse, murder, fire, drowning

Incest, sexual perversions, incest, BDSM, unholy couplings, paranormal seduction

Dark romance with qualified happy or doomed endings

Parody of the genre

Overwrought emotions, screams, melodrama

High style of the prose, beauty, poetic language and imagery Profound concepts

Unspeakable psychological suffering, torture

Women newly married to men with secrets

Descent into madness, hallucinations


Morals and acceptance of wholesome marriage at the end

Mixed feelings of revulsion and attraction

Attraction to two men, one dark, one light

Virginal fear of sex and disease

Woman in white, woman in black long dresses

Bare feet


Unreliable/insane narrator


Family history

Danger of falling in love with the wrong man

Frame stories and found manuscripts


Dungeons of torture and trap doors

Dense, rhythmic diction that creates a trance in reader

Fainting, swooning, near death, coma, possession

Fortunes gained, threatened, lost, recovered

Formal dialogue and manners, old-fashioned chastity, sensitivity


Dark, handsome, brooding man

Graveyards and crypts

First Person POV

Suddenly seeing a frightening character appear in front of one

A male hero who rescues the damsel

Slender, high cheekbones, devastating beauty, long hair

Multiple Personality Disorder


Can’t kill death

Knights, chivalry, armor that comes to life

Stories within stories

Gruesome death, disfigurement, and torture, revenge, rape


Deceit, manipulation, domination of the psyche

Lush use of adverbs and adjectives, old-fashioned language and stylized dialogue

Women at the mercy of men going insane and becoming cruel

Succubi and incubi


Elixir of life, Philosopher’s Stone, Rosicrucians, alchemy

Possession and exorcism

Werewolves, zombies, mummies


Ancient objects infused with magical powers

Walking skeletons

Love triangle

Vices such as gambling and addictions

Government conspiracies and cover-ups

Mad science, often related to the quest for immortality, cobbling together a “person” as in Frankenstein, Sci Fi that at first seems paranormal but is shown to be psychopaths arranging evil schemes to create illusions

Horrific scenes mixed with romantic longings

Alchemy, occult arts, ceremonial rituals, gruesome sacrifice

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